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Software Projects Secrets: Why Projects Fail

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Your boss has asked you to oversee the development of a new billing system, and you’ve brought together a capable project manager and a group of handpicked developers. They’ve chosen state-of-the-art technologies and tools to build the system. The business analyst has talked at length with the accounting manager, and has written up a detailed set of requirements. The project has everything it needs to be a success—doesn’t it?

Apparently not. Six months later the project is already late and over budget. The developers have been working overtime for weeks, and one has already quit, but despite this the software never seems to get any closer to completion. Part of the problem is that the accounting team keeps claiming that the software doesn’t do what they need, and they have pushed through a steady stream of “essential” change requests, not to mention a flood of bug reports. Your boss will be furious when she hears about this.

So what went wrong?

Whatever it is, it must be something that most companies get wrong. According to Standish Group [2001] research, only 28 percent of software projects in 2000 succeeded outright (see Figure 1-1). Some 23 percent were canceled, and the remainder were substantially late (by 63 percent on average), over budget (by 45 percent), lacking features (by 33 percent), or, very often, all of those issues combined.

At New Zealand’s Ministry of Justice, the new $42 million Case Management System was $8 million over budget and over a year late when it was rolled out in 2003. Of the 27 benefits expected from the system, only 16 have been realized. Instead of boosting productivity, the system has actually increased the time needed to manage court cases by doubling the amount of data entry. A postimplementation review identified over 1,400 outstanding issues. But “the only challenges faced by the developers were those common to large and complex systems” [Bell 2004].
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